Year of Publication



Arts and Sciences


Jewish Studies

Faculty Mentor

Dr. Janice W. Fernheimer


When imagining Kentucky’s religious heritage, most people picture churches, not synagogues. Yet historian Lee Shai Weissbach demonstrates that Kentucky’s first synagogue was built in Louisville in 1849, and Jews had been living in the Commonwealth almost as long as it existed. Kentucky’s Jewish heritage is rich and varied as illustrated by Arwen Donahue’s This is Home Now: Kentucky’s Holocaust Survivors Speak, Deborah Weiner’s Coalfield Jews: An Appalachian History, and Amy Shevitz’s Jewish Communities on the Ohio River: A History. While each of these texts refers to Paducah as an early and important Jewish settlement, none offers exclusive scholarly attention to what is now Kentucky’s third largest Jewish population center. Supported by the Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence and the UK Jewish Studies Summer Undergraduate Research Award, this study seeks to fill this gap in scholarship and provide more visibility to Jewish Kentucky generally and Jewish Paducah specifically. The author conducted three original oral history interviews, two with individuals who had lived memory of the Paducah Jewish community and one who is an active participant in that community. By closely analyzing the extant scholarship to contextualize first-hand accounts of Paducah’s Jewish community, I call attention to a history that few know about. This study seeks to promote understanding of one of Paducah’s most historically important ethnic groups, and thus show how Paducah’s, as well as Kentucky’s, heritage is far more diverse and inclusive than outsiders often realize.


Interviews with Dr. Laurie Ballew, Wilma Newberry, and Brandon Newberry are accessible from the Jewish Kentucky Oral History Project.